McGill’s ISID: where policy and research collide

Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2012

Robin McLay, McGill's first Public Servant in Residence, sees his role as recruiter of the next generation of policy leaders and a "connector" of ISID's research to policy makers. / Photo: Owen Egan

By Cynthia Lee

In many ways, Robin McLay has come full circle. McLay graduated from McGill in 1990 with an undergraduate degree in International Relations. Today, he’s McGill’s first Public Servant in Residence, a position he has held since January 2011.

McLay was seconded from his job with the government to work as the Executive Director at McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID). The terms of his employment fall under a program that allows high performing public servants to roll up their sleeves and mix it up with researchers in academia. It’s a match made in heaven for McLay and the people at ISID given his long career in international development and his ties to government.

A former Fullbright Scholar at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, McLay has dedicated his career to public service, including as Director of International Partnership Projects at the Canada School of Public Service, and as Director of Research at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

“Being the first Public Servant in Residence at McGill is really about supporting the Government of Canada’s effort at public service renewal,” says McLay. “One part of my role is recruiting the next generation of policy leaders into the public service, which may seem challenging now due to budget issues and strategic reviews, but over time, there will be significant opportunities. The other part of the job is connecting the research we are doing at the ISID to policy makers.”

Working with the ISID’s Founding Director, Phil Oxhorn, and his team, McLay sees great potential in making use of the research born out of the ISID and turning that work into policy.“We try to have our finger on the pulse on what the priority is for the Government of Canada,” says McLay. “This is why working with Phil is exciting; he has done an excellent job in connecting the Institute to important international development priorities.”

This month, ISID will host the conference, “Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Toward a Framework for Resource Extraction Industries.” The two-day event will examine the challenges of corporate social responsibility in an era of increased demand for natural resources. A host of speakers, from industry experts and policymakers to local and transnational civil society officials, will be on hand to discuss how to create effective strategies for using for-profit economic activity to generate sustainable development.

“The world is looking to Canada for leadership because we have so many natural resources and our extractive resources are active in a number of countries in the world,” says McLay. “It’s a controversial area. There are questions of motivation and meeting the triple bottom lines: environmental, social and profit.”

But, McLay is as optimistic about his role here at McGill as he is about the work of the ISID. “I am realizing there are so many possibilities when you put universities to work and connect them to many of the important opportunities that exist,” he says. “There are countless resources here that can be deployed abroad. Couple that with the high demand for what McGill has to offer in terms of knowledge, research and training and together we can turn that research into policy.”

ISID’s conference begins on March 29 at the Omni Hotel. For more information, please visit:


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